You might (or might not) notice, when listening to my music, that I don’t master my tracks as loudly as they could be.
But first things first. You might be wondering, "What in the world is mastering?"
Well, mastering happens after the music is mixed.
A mixdown file or tape or some kind of a recording is put through a final process which, these days, is largely about making the track sound loud.
In typical pop music mastering the signal is put through what is called a “brick wall limiter”. This device forces the music into a narrower range of quiet to loud and that then allows the over all loudness of the entire track to be greatly increased while unfortunately sacrificing dynamic range.
What is dynamic range? It’s just the difference between the quietest moment in a piece of recorded music and the loudest moment. Imagine there’s a point in a track where there is only the sound of a single violin. And then suddenly all the instruments come crashing in. The difference or range between those two states is dynamic range.
Not that long ago record companies and even some artists decided that if they made their recordings overly loud, then the DJs and programmers would notice and tend to play them more. This was the theory anyway. Over time this preoccupation with loudness at the expense of fidelity became known as the “loudness war”. Radio stations could have just turned the volume up. Or you at home or in your car could just turn it up to whatever level you wanted. But things kept getting louder anyway.
Wikipedia describes it like this: "The loudness war refers to the trend of increasing audio levels in recorded music, which reduces audio fidelity, and according to many critics, listener enjoyment."
But lately there's some good news on this front. Many artists (myself included) are beginning to get more interested in maintaining quality rather than just making everything loud. Keeping plenty of dynamic range in my music sounds better and prevents ear fatigue. Yes, your ears can get worn out by all that constant sound.
So, rather than smash my tracks during mastering to make you notice the loudness when you play it back, I use a much milder level of compression and make every effort to preserve transient sounds like kick drums, snares and hi hats and the wide differences that can occur in general between the loud parts of my music and the quieter parts.
For this reason you may notice that my music might play just a little bit quieter on your various systems, especially from CD. This is 100% intentional. And if you as the listener decide that you want the music louder there’s a very simple way to do that: just turn the volume up a little bit. That’s all you need to do. This preserves the fidelity of what I created in the studio and allows you to control the loudness instead of some record company or radio promoter.